Big Shots (ABC, Thursdays)

Oh, what hopes have been dashed by this flimsy ‘Desperate Housewives’ rip-off. Oh, how I’ve waited to see Christopher Titus back on television. You remember him, from the short-lived (ok, 3 seasons is not that short) sitcom Titus – about a hilariously dysfunctional family. You probably remember all the male leads from all kinds of recent shows – Joshua Malina from West Wing and Sports Night; Michael Vartan from Alias and of course, the ever-getting-younger-looking heart-throb Dylan McDermott from The Practice. This was a dream male cast, perfectly suited to play powerful CEOs with familiar, identifiable personal issues. Why, oh why did ABC decide to go cartoony on such a solid premise?

Probably because three years ago a little nothing of a show, an eye-candy throwaway with a similarly stunning female cast came out of nowhere and old hens in living rooms everywhere decided to watch it. I ranted about Desperate Housewives right from the start, saw that caricature get embraced by the entire continent, and saw them win award after award. I still have no idea why that show is so popular.

Well, looks like someone in the marketing department at ABC looked at the numbers for Desperate Housewives and decided to put together the same show, only aimed at men. On paper, it sounded great – 4 CEO friends who happen to have daily personal problems and solve them in a juvenile, entertaining, engaging ways. Why the hell not, this could be interesting, I said. I can identify with a person who can make a mistake – the fact the he happens to be extremely powerful only makes it more interesting. Worried that the show might be working too hard for the jokes, I tuned in. Liked the pilot – but things started going downhill quick.

After the second show I saw the characters flatten, the situations wear thin, and the dialogue disappear into cliches. Take Christopher Titus, for instance. He’s got great comic timing, immense on-stage presence. You remember his comedy bits, and you laugh out loud at them time and time again. His energy is that good. But why am I seeing more of his comedian persona, than the character written for him. Don’t get me wrong, he saves the awkward moments all the time, but he does it by ad-libbing as a comedian – I’ll bet any money that every second or third line of his is improvised. That, my friend implies a thin, or dull script. It also means the producers let him break out of character – which is bad for everyone – despite being funny.

Or, take Joshua Molina. Again, with so much range, and such interesting characters played in the past, to have him run around pretty much flailing his hands every time he has a crisis between his lover and wife? Really? Does he do that because he happens to be the smallest actor physically? Did some hack writer look at him and say ‘he’s short and wears glasses – let’s make him run around and wave hands in the air – or better yet, let’s make him stand in a hallway completely naked, strategically holding a pillow – it will be funny’? To a five-year-old maybe.

Michael Vartan and Dylan McDermott seem to occupy their characters more comfortably, or perhaps these roles are simply better developed. I really like their internal conflicts (in one case – about a cheating wife, in another – unhealthy interest in a tranny). They manage to give depth to scenes and if necessary, provide laughter but WITHOUT becoming a joke.

But that’s not enough to make a show compelling. If your show premise deals with CEOs, and these people actually got to where they are by working hard (as opposed to inheriting the cushy title), why the heck are you making them into idiots? You assume your characters are intelligent, as soon as you drop that angle, everything falls apart. Yes, people make mistakes, and some mistakes are hilarious – and that’s what I wanted to get out of the show. Instead, I have a fantastic premise – to observe powerful people succumb to their weaknesses, and make foolish decisions, embarrass themselves – but that promise relies on caricatures instead of mining real compelling experience. Why dumb things down? Why does funny have to be just a step away from stupid?

Do the writers believe serious professions are all by nature dull and uninteresting? Did they watch a single episode of Boston Legal or House? It’s possible to create a powerful, important, model character and still make him fall on his face. Why do your characters have to literally fall on your face to make it tv-friendly? I suspect the goal all along was to attract the same dumb crowd that is glued to Desperate Housewives. I won’t be part of that crowd. Too bad. Big Shots is a show with great premise, and for about an hour, it’s good. What I’m seeing now is caricatures and (almost) prat falls. Dramedy can be so much better. And smarter.

Wanna watch powerful people lose themselves in seemingly trivial situations? Want it to be funny, intelligent and compelling as well? Perhaps you should check ‘Dirty Sexy Money’. And it’s a better show, with a very similar premise.

And I was really looking forward to seeing Christopher Titus back on TV again. What a shame.

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